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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Election Law Super-Blogging

Brian Leiter recently claimed that it is extremely rare for leading lights of a field to blog about the substance of their research areas, to wit:

The . . . main limitation of blogs as forums for serious scholarly debate--tactfully not noted by Kate [Litvak]--is that only a miniscule number of first-rate legal scholars in any field actually blog on scholarly topics; indeed, if you subtract the Chicago faculty blog and Balkinization, "miniscule" may overstate the number of leading lights in their fields who blog in their areas of scholarly expertise (you can probably count the remainder on one hand).  I find it hard to see how blogs can have much significant scholarly impact when the most significant scholars rarely participate in the forum, or, at least, rarely participate for scholarly purposes. 

To be sure, Brian backed off his argument a bit in an update.  Yet he failed to mention Rick Hasen and his Election Law blog; Rick is clearly a leading light in his field -- and the blog is devoted to his research area.  Now that blog will get even more interesting with the following upcoming (leading light) guest bloggers discussing VRA renewal: Guy Charles, Heather Gerken, Pam Karlan, Nate Persily, Rick Pildes, and Dan Tokaji.  Only Issacharoff is missing the party!

Posted by Ethan Leib on May 11, 2006 at 03:02 PM in Blogging | Permalink

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Frankly, I found that comment by Leiter, whose stuff I often like, to be indefensibly elitist. Ther seem to be several flawed assumptions underlying Leiter's point: (1) That the top few scholars have a meaningful market share on intersting new ideas (in reality, a lot of newer or less-recognized scholars may well generate a lot of interesting academic ideas); (2) That those already recognized as "the elite" will continue to be the elite (in reality, today's "non-elite" scholar may become tomorrow's elite scholar, and today s/he may be a blogger); (3) That there's a meaningful distinction between scholars 3-5 in a field and scholars 15-17 (which I doubt, in part because scholars 15-17 may be about as good, or maybe they're inferior only in quantity of scholarship produced, but each book/article they write is at least as good).

Posted by: Scott Moss | May 11, 2006 3:11:45 PM

It *is* extremely rare for the best scholars to blog in their fields, and your post proves the point: when Hasen rounds up Karlan, Pildes et al., then that IS notable precisely because most folks who blog in most areas of legal scholarship are not nearly as significant and innovative as Hasen, Karlan, Pildes et al. are in election law. The whole reason to call attention to this event is precisely because the best folks in the field are going to participate, which is so unusual in the blogosphere.

I am not sure I entirely understand Scott Moss's rejoinder. I think we agree that there are defensible forms of elitism (otherwise why modify "elitism"!), but I fear he may misunderstand my form (it may well be my fault, so I hold him non-culpable). Let me clarify three points. First, whenever you talk to anyone who isn't a blogger, they always make the same point: how can blogs have a "significnat" impact on legal scholarship when most "significant" legal scholars don't blog? It's really hard to quarrel with this, I would think. Second, "elite", to my mind, encompasses the 3-5 and the 15-17, depending, of course, on the field. But in, say, constitutional law, there must be 40 or more really significant scholars, who ahve a huge impact on scholarly debates, and almost none of them blog: not (just to make this tangible) Ackerman, Amar, Fiss, Tribe, Farber, Laycock, Sager, Bobbitt, Tushnet, Van Alstyne, Nagel, Marshall, Alexander, Powe, Frickey, Post, Sherry, Lupu, Calabresi, Karst, and on and on. Third, "elite" refers to quality not school rank or seniority. Those who think they are working in "jurisprudence" at Harvard, for example, aren't even in the same ballpark with those working in "jurisprudence" at Illinois, and I suspect that this is not peculiar to my field. It is quite possible (indeed probable) I am ignorant of the leading young folks in some field or of some first-rate more senior folks at less highly ranked schools, and I am happy to stand corrected on particular cases. But until that shown, I am inclined to think it should be uncontroversial that the blogosphere can't have a significnat impact on scholarly debate because the overwhelming majority of significnat legal scholars don't participate.

Posted by: Brian | May 11, 2006 9:33:59 PM

Notwithstanding the well-taken point that the leading lights of con-law don't blog, Hasen, Karlan, Gerken, etc. certainly aren't the only top scholars in their field blogging. Another example is the often excellent International Economic Law and Policy Blog. With contributors including Lorand Bartels, Tomer Broude, Steve Charnovitz, Rob Howse
Petros Mavroidis, Joost Pauwelyn, Don Regan, Joanne Scott, Chantal Thomas, Joel Trachtman, Peter Van den Bossche, Todd Weiler these folks really are some of the most original trade law scholars from both sides of the Atlantic. When a significant WTO decision is handed down, there is not a better place to look on the internet for thoughtful commentary and debate.

Posted by: 3L | May 14, 2006 9:08:39 PM

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